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Planners approve another Viking test mast

SHETLAND wind farm developer Viking Energy Partnership (VEP) has been granted permission to retain a wind data mast at South Mid Field, near Weisdale, for a further three years.

On Wednesday planning board members unanimously approved the application which had attracted two objections and 12 letters of support, but expressed their disappointment that a previously granted temporary permission for the 72 metre high mast had lapsed two years ago.

Councillors refuted allegations made by one of the two objectors, Billy Fox of campaign group Sustainable Shetland, that they should not make a decision on the application because as trustees of Shetland Charitable Trust they had a 45 per cent shareholding in the applying company.

VEP, a consortium between Scottish & Southern Energy, the charitable trust and four individual shareholders, propose to build a 540MW wind farm in the central mainland of the isles.

Chairing the meeting, councillor Gary Robinson declared an interest as a trustee but assured board members that they all could proceed as they were sitting as the planning authority.

Addressing the planning hearing, Mr Fox said the group was objecting to the application mainly on two grounds: non-compliance with the previous permission and health and safety concerns after one of three masts failed “catastrophically” in a storm in October 2008, and a second mast was beginning to show signs of failure.

He called on the meeting to defer a decision until the group’s safety fears had been addressed.

“It is our firm opinion there has been serious failure regarding non-compliance from the developer and lack of regulation from the planning department.

“To grant this extension without seeking cast iron assurances on future compliance, integrity of the installation and what steps VE will take regarding inspection regime etc would be extremely remiss,” he said

He further questioned the validity of the board looking at the VEP application as councillors could not be both “planners and developers”.

But Viking Energy project officer David Thomson said retaining the mast at South Mid Field was important to the project to collect further data that would help to site turbines and project the financial return of the project.

He said the company had reacted to the concern raised after the mast at Gruti Field was blown down and is equipping additional wind data masts with a different foundation system.

Councillor Cecil Smith expressed his disappointment that the Mid Field mast had been without planning consent for two years and reminded the company that it was its duty that the required permissions were in place.

But he also criticised Mr Fox for raising the conflict of interest issue again, which would do Sustainable Shetland’s campaign against the Viking Energy project no good, he said.

“I don’t see that we can carry on fighting each other as we do,” he warned

Councillor Josie Simpson then moved approval, with Laura Baisley seconding.

In an unusual move, Mr Fox was asked by Ms Baisley why Sustainable Shetland had not objected to the Total gas processing plant application, a development that involves the excavation of vast amount of peat.

In his response, Mr Fox said the group’s objection to the application before the board had nothing to do with concern about the impact on Shetland’s peat bogs, and therefore he could refuse to answer the question.

When he said he would give a reply he was interrupted by follow board members who said this discussion should not be held as part of a planning board meeting.

Scottish Parliament election, 6 May 2021